Upstate International Month Brings You the World

Upstate International Month Brings You the World

The month of March is Upstate International Month, with events across the Upstate celebrating various aspects of cultures across the world—from food to film to festivals. The events range from large ticketed events at the Peace Center and other venues to smaller, more intimate gatherings, so there’s something for everyone to explore.

All told, there will be around 100 events hosted by 50-60 businesses and organizations throughout the month of March. The host organizations partner with Upstate International, using the UI branding and theme (“Fun on a Global Scale!”) for their events, which UI then promotes.

The events are meant to highlight the beautiful diversity that exists among various cultures around the world, but Upstate International as an organization exists, in part, to shine a spotlight on the ethnic diversity that exists right here in the Upstate.

“As we enter into the 8th consecutive year of our month-long celebration each March, we are delighted by the continuing participation of our regular event hosts while excited by new partnerships and new events,” says UI executive director Tracie Frese. “The longevity of our UI Month is proof of its value.”

This year’s kickoff fundraising event is a sold-out international murder mystery night, “Murder on a Train” on February 28th—but even if you didn’t manage to snag a ticket to that event, there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate UI Month.

Here is a sampling of the events:

Check out Upstate International’s calendar for a full listing of all of the UI Month events, as well as the UpstateVibe365 calendar.

February Is the Perfect Time to Settle In with a (Locally Purchased) Book

February Is the Perfect Time to Settle In with a (Locally Purchased) Book

There’s really no bad time to spend time with a good book, but this time between the holidays and spring feels like a particularly good time—and what could be better on a dreary day than browsing in a cozy bookstore?

In a perfect world (well, my perfect world anyway), every small town would have a bookstore and people would support those bookstores. The predictions that independent bookstores would go the way of the dodo in the age of Amazon and downloadable audio and e-books aren’t coming true for now, which is a good thing, because those locally owned bookstores are an important part of a vibrant community.

Alas, every town in the Upstate does not have a bookstore, but there are a handful of great independent bookstores in the area that are well stocked with a curated selection of books and staffed with knowledgeable booksellers.

In Easley, Poor Richard’s Booksellers occupies the building where the original public library was housed and has been serving the Easley community for more than 30 years. Their Facebook page is worth a follow for the quirky book-related memes mixed in with the announcements of new releases and other book news.

M Judson, situated in the thick of things in downtown Greenville, right on South Main

An author event at M Judson

Street, a block away from the Peace Center and across the street from Soby’s, is a book lover’s oasis. Billing itself as “more than a bookstore”—“a literary hub, a cultural lifestyle,” M Judson hosts a variety of events, from book signings to story hours to regular songwriters’ showcases.

Contrary to its name, Fiction Addiction offers a full range of books—yes, there is plenty of fiction, but also children’s, business and finance, biography and memoir, art, Christian fiction,

Fiction Addiction’s “Book Your Lunch” event

and more. Tucked into a strip mall off of Congaree Road in Greenville behind the Haywood Mall, it might be easy to miss, but it’s worth the trip to check out their large selection or one of their events.

A different kind of book proposal inside Hub City Bookshop

In downtown Spartanburg, there is Hub City Bookshop—one of a very few nonprofit bookstores around, housed in the Masonic Temple building on West Main Street. It, along with Hub City Press, is under the parent organization of Hub City Writers Project. The Hub City Press books are on display in the front of the store, but it is very much a full-service bookstore with a wide selection of titles. They, too, have a variety of events for readers and writers.

Is a good used bookstore more your thing? There are plenty of those in the Upstate too! Here is a sampling:

by Sharon Purvis


Black History Month: African American Heritage in the Upstate

Black History Month: African American Heritage in the Upstate

We’re halfway through Black History Month, but there are still plenty of events across the Upstate celebrating the achievements of our African American citizens, bringing to light little-known pieces of history, and not shying away from the fact that there is still work to be done to achieve racial equity.

As part of Black History Month, Greenville News is commemorating the 50th anniversary of school desegregation in Greenville County through February 17th with a series of articles that you should definitely check out for a variety of perspectives on that momentous occasion.

Aside from events that are happening this month, the South Carolina Office of Tourism offers the Green Book of South Carolina, created by the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, with more than 300 African American heritage sites across the state, from historic churches and schools to museums and historic districts. Users can search by category, by map, or by a list of locations, or they can choose themed tours.

African American Heritage Sites

Here in the Upstate, there are plenty of heritage sites listed in the Green Book of SC, but a couple that are definitely worth a visit are the Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum in Seneca and the Benjamin Mays Historic Site in Greenwood.

Completed in 2015, the Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum, named for the woman whose property was purchased for the museum, was conceived to tell the story of African Americans in Oconee County and around South Carolina. The motto of the museum is “Honoring the Past—Elevating the Future,” and the mission, in part, is to “honor the lives, accomplishments, contributions, diversity, and struggles of African Americans and their ancestors.”

The current exhibit at the museum is “521 All-Stars: A Championship Story of Baseball and Community,” based on the book of the same name, chronicling the Gamecock baseball league of Rembert, SC, made up of African American players. (For more about black baseball leagues, check out The Other Boys of Summer, a film that is being screened in various locations in Spartanburg on February 17th-18th.)

Benjamin Mays, the 6th president of HBCU Morehouse College, was born to sharecroppers in Epworth, in southern Greenwood County. From those humble beginnings, he went on not only to a career in higher education, but also to distinguish himself as a Civil Rights leader. His childhood home was moved from Epworth to Greenwood, where it is part of the Benjamin E. Mays Historic Preservation Site. The other buildings on the site include a museum with photographs and collections of Mays’ writings and speeches and the original Burns Springs one-room African American school, also from Epworth.

Check out our calendar for more Black History Month events across the Upstate!

Due West Robotics Spartans of TOAST Team Head to World Championships

Due West Robotics Spartans of TOAST Team Head to World Championships

For the second time in four years, Due West Robotics is sending a team to the FIRST Robotics world championships, where teams from more than 70 countries will compete for the title. When I wrote about the first team in 2017, I interviewed Charles Angel, who was then the mayor of Due West, over the phone. This time, I went to Due West to meet Angel and the team, see the robot, and hear their presentations about their designs.

The idea of the robotics program in Due West was born in 2011, when Angel’s son Ethan got a LEGO Mindstorms kit for Christmas and got hooked on robotics. That summer, Angel took Ethan and some friends to a robotics camp at Clemson, where he met a couple of FIRST Robotics coaches. They encouraged him to start a team, and even though there were naysayers who said kids from Due West (population 1,247) wouldn’t be able to compete with kids from Greenville and Columbia and Charleston, he started.

The naysayers, needless to say, were wrong. Due West Robotics fielded a state-championship team, Tornado of Ideas, in 2017, and this year, the Spartans of TOAST team came out on top of more than 300 teams in South Carolina and will head to Houston for the world championship in April.

Each year, FIRST Robotics announces a theme for the challenge, and this year’s theme is City Shapers. For the FIRST LEGO League teams like Spartans of TOAST, here are two pieces of the challenge: one is to design a robot that can perform a series of missions that relate to the topic. All teams receive a mat with graphics printed on it so that they are all practicing the same missions and judged on identical tasks.

The second piece is to come up with an invention that addresses a challenge related to the topic and design a prototype. The Spartans of TOAST decided to take on an outbreak of hepatitis A in the state, creating a dry hand sanitizer to kill germs that spread the disease. They call their invention the “Germ Toaster”—which led them to their team name (TOAST is also an acronym for “to obtain anything, start thinking”).

Team member Stone Driggers explained that the stainless-steel box (which does resemble a toaster oven) has motion-activated LED lights that stand in for the germ-killing UVC lights, which will be in the working prototype. UVC lights have been used to sanitize instruments and rooms in medical settings, but their invention is unique in that it directly sanitizes the skin, Jackson Dunn told me. Team members Georgia Wojtkowski, David Clarke, and Zackery Humphrey filled in more details about the device—including the fact that the team is currently working on filing a patent on it, with guidance from physician and inventor of multiple medical devices, Dr. Jeff Deal out of Charleston, SC.

After the Germ Toaster presentation, I got to see the robot—named Flower Power in honor of the late Dr. Woodie Flowers, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, who died in October of 2019. Flowers specialized in engineering design and product development, so it is a fitting tribute.

The robot’s performance while I was watching had some hiccups, but the team explained to me how it should have worked if all went perfectly. “So,” I asked them, “when you were at the state tournament, did it all run like clockwork?”

There was a pause, some sheepish grins, and then someone said, “That’s a firm no. We messed up a lot.”

Angel said, “This is your overcoming story, right?”

Overcome they did. After the first round, the Spartans were in last place, and a couple of team members skipped lunch to try to work on what went wrong the robot. Before the second run, one of the team members said to Angel, “Mr. Charles, we could go from last place to first place right now!”

They didn’t—they ended up 6th in the mission challenge. But the competition is judged on four criteria: the mission challenge, the invention, a presentation about the design of the robot to a panel of engineers, and another presentation about the team’s core values—which include things like team identity, working together, role delegation, and budgeting. The team excelled in those other three areas, which was enough to put them at the top of the competition.

And now the Spartans of TOAST will take their Germ Toaster, their Flower Power robot, their can-do attitude, and all the skills they’ve learned this year to Houston to see what they can do against teams from all over the world.

by Sharon Purvis

Envision Williamston: A Town with a History and a Future

Envision Williamston: A Town with a History and a Future

At the invitation of Tony Brown, the executive director of Envision Williamston, I spent a couple of hours earlier this week in a town I had never visited before and didn’t know much about—Williamston, which used to be called Mineral Springs.

On the eastern edge of Anderson County, between Belton and Pelzer, sits the town of 4100 people with a familiar history—one of textile manufacturing that was once the lifeblood of the town, but now it’s more of a bedroom community for Greenville or Anderson.

It’s a town that has a lot going for it, though.

While a lot of towns talk about how to incorporate green space in their downtown areas, Williamston’s downtown is built around Mineral Spring Park. With picnic shelters, a playground, a stage, and plenty of open space, the park is used for recreation and events, and a paved path around and through the park is perfect for strollers, bicycles, wheelchairs, or walking shoes.

Joining up with the park’s path is a paved trail that follows Big Creek to an old water treatment plant, making a mile of walking trail. A colorful mural depicting people enjoying the trail covers the side of the treatment plant building.

The mineral spring for which the park (and originally the town) is named was discovered by the town’s founder, West Allen Williams, and is said to have healing powers. As word of the medicinal waters spread, a hotel was built to accommodate the people who came to the “Saratoga of the South” to seek relief for a variety of ailments. The hotel was the largest building in the state at the time, but it was destroyed by fire in 1861.

The site of that hotel is now the town’s municipal building, which previously housed several different of the town’s schools—it certainly has the feel of an old school.

But before the present building was erected in the late 1930s, another building stood on the property: The Williamston Female College, founded by Dr. Samuel Lander. That institution eventually moved to Greenwood and was renamed Lander University, and the building once more became a hotel.

Brown envisions a lot for the town, talking enthusiastically about possibilities for a couple of abandoned buildings across from the park and how youth sports could make the difference when families are looking for a place to settle down. His vision is to draw people who are driving from Greenville to Clemson or coming to Williamson’s events not just to stop for a visit, but to see Williamston as a place to live or even to open a business.

by Sharon Purvis



Martin Luther King Day of Service

Martin Luther King Day of Service

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, officially designating the holiday as a day of service—or, as the slogan says, “a day on, not a day off.”

Across the Upstate, communities are offering opportunities for service, along with other events that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King.

Spartanburg has a lot going on, with the City of Spartanburg sponsoring a Unity Week Celebration and the United Way of the Piedmont is serving as a repository for local organizations needing volunteers for MLK Day projects—once you click the link, you’ll see more than 30 service projects that you can sign up for.

United Way of Anderson has shifted their day of celebration and service to Saturday the 18th for their Dream Day—come with a group, and you’ll be paired with a partner organization that needs volunteers. Plus all participants will get a t-shirt!

Area colleges and universities also have plenty of opportunities for students to serve, as well as programs for the community to participate in: check out the events at Furman, Clemson, Greenville Tech, Lander University, Limestone College, and Anderson University.

Check out our calendar, too, for service opportunities and other MLK celebrations!